[Some unusual territory for me: An amateur linguistic analysis of some recent trends on the internet.]
The internet, glorified in the abstract like much of modern technology, is often idealized as a universal medium of communication that promotes globalization, convenient and cheap education, community cohesion, and a host of other social goods. John Barlow, a founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, claimed
“cyberspace consists of transactions, relationships, and thought itself, arrayed like a standing wave in the web of our communications… We are creating a world that all may enter without privilege or prejudice accorded by race, economic power, military force, or station of birth… a world where anyone, anywhere may express his or her beliefs… We believe that from ethics, enlightened self-interest, and the commonweal, our governance will emerge… The only law that we recognize is the Golden Rule” (Barlow).
The assumption being made in this veneration, is that humanity, if somehow able to achieve perfect communication, will naturally recoil from all evils- that communicative unity can only bring about good. A powerful counter-example can be found in Orwell’s 1984, in which an all-powerful totalitarian central government enslaves the minds of its citizens by enforcing universal patterns of speech. “Newspeak” it is termed, and it “was intended to make all other forms of thought impossible… a heretical thought- a thought diverging from the principles of Ingsoc [the totalitarian government]- would be literally unthinkable” (Orwell 300). Certainly, in this case, the universal communication established in the fictional Oceania is not for the good. It illustrates that communication, no matter how universal, is ultimately modified by the dynamics of power, for better, worse, or neither.
This principle is not limited to fictional exemplification: it is embodied in the very creation of the internet. An analysis of the development of the internet, from ARPANET in 1969 to the dominance of the World Wide Web in the 1990s, leads us to abandon any traditional narrative of a communication network novel in its neutrality, in favor of an internet that, while explicitly striving for neutrality, is deeply seated in an English language bias … Continue Suffering